Authors: Ivan Kal
Thanatos; Fleet Headquarters
Bethany hurried down the corridors of the large complex on Thanatos, one of Sanctuary’s moons. The entire moon was property of the Fleet, and it was covered in artificial environments, warehouses, and research centers. A great number of Fleet personnel actually lived here; there was a dedicated apartment complex that currently housed around a million people, all part of the Empire’s Fleet. Beth would need to find an apartment there too, seeing as the home she’d shared with Harry was no longer hers. She didn’t feel sad about it; she hadn’t stepped foot inside it for years, and Harry deserved to have it.
She had spoken with him a couple of days ago. The two had met at what used to be their home. They had spent almost the entire day talking, and at the end they’d decided to get a divorce. They didn’t love each other anymore. The process of getting the actual divorce didn’t last more than a couple of minutes. Together they had called, and after a few questions and their consent, they were divorced. They didn’t have any joint possessions except the house, and Beth let him have it. And so, more than thirty years of marriage had ended in an afternoon.
But since then, Beth couldn’t help but feel elated, free. She had dreaded that moment for so long, and when it had finally come, it had been anticlimactic. They’d spoken as two old friends, both understanding that there was no point in keeping up with the charade. They had no kids together; there was no need to try and fix something that had probably never worked in the first place.
Now, after she was done with her personal stuff, she could focus completely on Fleet. After reporting to the headquarters, she had been given a few days’ leave. The ships she’d brought with her had been sent to the shipyards orbiting Thanatos for quick upgrades before the offensive. And now with her leave over, she had to report to a meeting with the Fleet’s leaders.
She reached the meeting room and entered. The first person she saw when she stepped inside was Fleets Master Laura Reiss, who sat at the head of the holo table, her black hair pulled back in a tight bun. Next to her on her left was Oswald Mein, Commander of Fleets, who was Laura’s second-in-command. Across from him sat Fleet Commander Nair Hakeem of the Third Fleet. He and Beth were good friends, one of the few she actually had. They’d been the two commanders in charge of the invasion on the Sowir territories, and they had talked almost daily over the past three years. She nodded at him with a smile, which he returned. She then turned to look at the last person in the room, who was standing on the right side of the room, and froze.
Adrian smiled uncomfortably at her as she continued not to move. The Fleets Master saved her by speaking.
“Take a seat, Fleet Commander Jones,” she said, gesturing for her to take a seat by Nair’s side.
Beth saluted and took a seat. She watched as Adrian walked and sat down next to Oswald across from her.
“Well, now that we are all here, let’s start with the briefing,” Laura said. Then she reached to her overcoat and brought out a small data chip. She placed it on the table and the holo table turned on. Images of three Sowir systems started spinning above the table.
“These are our first three targets. The most important one is this one.” She pointed, and the holo changed to show only one system. “The Guxaxac system. This is where we will hit them the hardest. The Army is ready to take the fight to the ground; our job is to make sure that all Sowir forces in orbit are dealt with. To that extent, we will be sending most of our forces there.” She turned to look at Bethany. “Fleet Commander Jones, we will be sending you and the Second Fleet. In addition to your current ships, we will add another one hundred Kraken-class and eighty Furious-class missile ships.”
“Thank you, Fleets Master, I won’t disappoint you,” Beth said.
Laura nodded. “The forces in the Guxaxac system are not as large as in other systems, but we can’t risk them doing something rash once they realize that they will lose the system. We don’t want another situation similar to Earth,” she said grimly, then added, “The forces on the ground are much more formidable than in space, but that is for the Army to deal with. Their transports will also join your fleet.”
She again swiped her hand across the table, and the holo changed to show the second of the three systems. “This is Nuuar, a former capital of the Pouute. As you can see, the Sowir have a much greater presence here. Thirty-four defense platforms, five stations, and two shipyards. The planet is occupied by millions of Sowir agents, but according to the intel we got from the Sowir prisoners, there are only a dozen or so Sowir on the planet,” Laura said as she gave Adrian a strange look. “The Sowir are using their agents to adapt former Pouute cities to their liking before they move in themselves. Most of the Sowir are residing on the stations in the system. So you will ignore the planet.”
She turned to look at Nair. “Fleet Commander Hakeem, you and the Third Fleet will be assaulting this system. After evaluating the shipyards and stations we took from the Sowir in the last offensive, our people agree that there is little we would gain from taking more of them. Your mission is simple: destroy all their ships and stations, and bomb any other planet-based installations they have in-system from orbit.”
Nair nodded. “Of course, Fleets Master.”
Then she turned to Adrian. “Clan Leader, your target is this system.” The holo changed again to show the last Sowir system. “This is one of the original Sowir systems, as you can see this system has more defenses than any system we have previously attacked. There are two hundred military ships in system, in addition to their cargo ships. Our goal is only to hit military targets, but as the Sowir don’t really have a civilian population, if their non-military ships intervene, you may destroy them as well. Concentrate on destroying all of their facilities, defense platforms, and stations. If some ships want to run, let them,” Laura said.
She looked around the room before continuing. “Our plan is to isolate them in their home system, which is why the locations of these three systems are on different sides of their territory. We will basically herd them back to their home system, and crush their military there.”
Oswald then cleared his throat. “Clan Leader Farkas will command his Vanguard Fleet in addition to what we are now calling the Fourth Fleet, which consists of newly built Kraken-class ships and repaired ships that survived the battle at Nelus. Also, Clan Leader Farkas will act as Warmaster for this offensive. After you complete your primary objectives, he will guide the rest of the conflict. The Fleet will be here for advice, and we will keep watch over the Sowir systems with our surveillance drones and relay the information to your fleets. I will let him tell you about the expanded plan.”
Adrian stood and the holo changed, now showing Sowir territory with three points glowing red—the three systems they were planning on attacking.
“The rest of the offensive, following the opening, can go in many different directions depending on the Sowir reaction, so I will not bother you with plans that might not even be used. Our primary goal will always be the same: Isolate the Sowir in their home system. All our actions will be for that goal. The Sowir don’t follow any kind of doctrine that we can imagine. Their ships are operated by only a few of their people, with them using their telepathy to control their tools like additional limbs. But with their small numbers, that means that they never allow themselves to be without those tools, which makes capture extremely hard. We were lucky to have gotten any prisoners; we caught them off guard. That will not happen again. They will keep thousands of their tools between themselves and us. So don’t even try to take prisoners. No boarding disabled ships; destroy them and move on. We will not be taking these systems from the Sowir, we are wiping them clean,” Adrian said, looking both Nair and Beth in the eyes. She remembered this Adrian, the emotionless commander. It was one of the things that had infuriated her back at the Academy.
“We will destroy their presence in every system surrounding their home system. The projections indicate that they will figure out what we are planning and abandon their other systems after we pass through six of their remaining eleven systems. I agree with these projections. The Sowir prisoners have made it very clear that the Sowir ships will fight to the death; they will not ask for mercy, nor will they surrender. They are now aware that we know that they don’t keep their word to those they don’t consider true beings, and that we will not keep our word to them. They would rather all fight to the end, hoping to hurt us in the process. And we will deny them that.”
“Is there really no way to get them to surrender?” Nair asked, voicing Bethany’s thoughts as well.
Adrian shook his head sadly. “Perhaps there is a way, but it would require putting our people at great risk. The reason why they are not going to accept any kind of agreement now is simple. They know that we have Nel as part of our Empire. They understand that we will never allow them to live peacefully at our borders, so they see no point in talking. It is very logical to their minds.”
Nair nodded his thanks for the answer.
Adrian looked around. “Any other questions?” he asked. When no one said anything, he cleared the holo. “Alright, Fleet Commanders Jones and Hakeem, you are free to inspect your ships. If you want any changes or additions, you have until the end of the week to request them.” He nodded a dismissal.
People got up and started leaving. Only Bethany and Adrian stayed by some unspoken agreement. When the last person exited and left them alone, the silence somehow deepened and grew heavier. Adrian stood up and leaned on a chair.
“So, how have you been?” he asked. His cold, commanding demeanor was gone now. He looked uncomfortable, unsure.
“Good. You? I heard that you had a tough few years…” Beth said, equally awkward.
“I’m good, and yes, it has been an interesting couple of years,” Adrian said. After another uncomfortable silence, he spoke again. “How’s Harry?” he asked.
Beth shifted uncomfortably. “He is good...We are divorced,” she added quickly. Perhaps too quickly.
Adrian’s eyes widened a bit at that. “Really? I hadn’t heard.”
“Well, well the fact that it happened a few days ago is probably why. Not many people know,” she said with a crooked smile. That managed to make Adrian’s lip curl into a small smile. Then, before she chickened out, she stood. “Adrian, I know that we haven’t really spoken in a long time. That even though we’ve put the past behind, we still haven’t made any steps to actually talk again.”
“I know, Beth,” Adrian said sadly. “It wasn’t that I didn’t forgive you, or that I didn’t want to. It’s just that there were other more important things in my life. I would love to be your friend again, Beth, but you need to know that it won’t ever be more than that. You hurt me, but it isn’t really about that. I have changed. I am not the same person I was then. If you want to be friends again, I can do that. But if you want something more…Then it is better if we pretend we are only colleagues.” For a moment, she thought that she saw something in his face, but it was hidden too quickly for her to recognize it.
Beth dropped her head to hide the emotions on her face. She had hoped that they might move forward from where they’d left off years ago. But she knew that it was unlikely. She stood up and stepped around the table to stand in front of him. She extended her hand to him. “Friends?”
Adrian smiled and took her hand in a handshake. “Friends.”
December; Vanguard Fleet – Trans-lane to Sowir system
Adrian sat in the command center of the Harbinger, three lead balls floating around him, and watched as the big timer in the middle holo ticked down, indicating the remaining time until they entered the Sowir system. It had taken a great deal of planning to coordinate the attack so that all three fleets attacked around the same time. The fleets would arrive within a half hour of each other. And Adrian’s fleet would reach its target first.
His fleet included ten Vanguard ships, one hundred Kraken-class warships, one hundred and fifty Furious missile ships, and ninety-three battleships that had survived the battle for Nelus. But in addition to those, he had thirty auxiliary ships, and also forty drones constructed by Warpath, designed to be the support for the Vanguard Fleet. And with the knowledge from the People, they had managed to upgrade their original designs significantly.
The drone ships were remotely controlled by the flagship’s AI, in this case Iris. But she only controlled their propulsion systems outside of combat. In combat, the ships themselves would be controlled by the Watchtower interface remotely. The new version of Watchtower was much better than the one Adrian had used at Nelus. With the tech from the sphere, they’d managed to lower the load and increase effectiveness by 580%, making it safe to use for anyone.
The drones were a radically different than anything they had built previously. Each drone was five hundred meters long and was a purely offensive ship. The drones had no indoor room delegated to crews, so that they could have more ammunition and weapons. They weighed almost as much as an 1100-meter-long Kraken-class warship.
Adrian checked the timer once again, seeing that there was only around two minutes until they would arrive. He got up from his command chair, pocketed the balls, and turned to his ship’s second-in-command, Paul Isaacs.
“You have the ship, Paul. Try not to break her,” Adrian said jokingly.
“I won’t. Unless you order us to ram something, then I can’t guarantee anything,” Paul answered, deadpan, as he took Adrian’s chair. Adrian shook his head as he exited the CC.
While Adrian used the Watchtower, Paul was in command of the Harbinger, as Adrian couldn’t really command a ship while he was in charge of the entire fleet and the drones. Adrian did realize that in the future they would need special command ships for their Fleet Commanders. And he suspected that soon the Empire Fleet would undergo another drastic change in structure—with all of the tech coming out of the sphere, it was a given.
Adrian walked towards the Watchtower room, followed by Akash and Sora. Once inside the room, he sat in the chair and felt the connection with the access point on his neck as the two wolions got into sitting positions in front of him. He closed his eyes, and a moment later he was floating in empty space. They were yet to exit the trans-lane, so there was little for the interface to show.
On his command, the timer appeared in front of him, with the last ten seconds counting down. Once the timer hit zero, the space around him started changing. First to appear was his fleet, and then as their sensors went active, the Sowir defenses. The system had a Sowir presence on two planets out of four, and their military ships were mostly spread between the two, with a couple patrolling the hyperspace barrier of the system.
The Sowir still didn’t know about his fleet, as it had entered the system through the incoming trans-station close to the system’s sun. But from his position, he could see the two Sowir worlds. One was high above the system sun’s plane, while the other was close to the middle. There was enough distance between the planets that the Sowir had no chance of reinforcing the other planet if Adrian chose to attack one of them. Too bad for them that Adrian had no intention of engaging their defenses from within their effective firing range. He designated the planet high above the plane as target A and the other one as target B.
With a thought, he spread his fleet in a wall formation. “Iris,” he called, and within moments, the shape of a human-sized fiery woman appeared beside him.
“Yes, Adrian?” she asked. She was connected to the interface through the ship itself, and while this space was in fact in his head, she could enter it through his connection to the Watchtower.
“Can you check my targeting calculations on this?” He sent her the targets through his implant. A moment later, he had the firing solutions for all his warships. With a thought, he sent out the order.
His ships opened fire with their kinetic weapons, firing from far outside the Sowir range. Massive 900mm tungsten rounds, both grav and explosive shells, blasted out of his ships on their way towards the Sowir stations, defense platforms, and stationary ships. Another timer appeared, counting down from thirty two minutes—the time it would take for his attack to reach the Sowir at target B.
He moved his entire fleet towards target B, the closer of the two planets. According to his calculation’s, the Sowir would detect his fleet just before his attack hit. And by that time, they would be just inside his ships’ maximum range. He prepared targeting solutions and sent them to his ships. Then he used the Watchtower to move his drones above his formation, and he adjusted the fleet’s formation to that of a concave lens, allowing all ships to fire on Sowir targets.
Then he settled to watch as his previous attack neared the unsuspecting Sowir, even as his fleet grew ever closer.
The Sowir sensory net at target B detected the Empire ships as they moved towards their positions. Immediately, alarms sounded throughout their positions around the planet. Ships started firing their drives, and their defense platforms brought their weapons online. In all the confusion, as the Sowir focused their sensors on the incoming fleet, they missed the danger about to reach them until it was too late. The Sowir sensors discovered the incoming hail when it was just a minute away. Immediately, those ships that had their drives already primed hurried to get out of the way, while the ones in the initial phase realized that they had no chance. Desperately, they turned their point defenses towards the Empire’s attack, but it was futile; their lasers had no hope of stopping the sheer mass of the Empire’s main weapon.
Tungsten explosive shells ripped into their ships, shredding their armor, which made the following effect of the 900mm rounds of metal that much greater. The massive rounds struck their ships with such force that they smashed them inwards and punched through, leaving mangled messes in some cases. But more often than not, a hit resulted in complete destruction of the Sowir ships, with short-lived explosions appearing by the dozens in the span of a couple of seconds as the air inside the ships burned out.
Their defense platforms and station didn’t fare any better. Massive grav shells hit the armored hulls of the defense platforms and the gravity generators inside activated, creating powerful gravity fields that resulted in small, contained implosions that tore their armor apart. Following them, explosive shells hit, resulting in the platform’s complete destruction in most cases. Thirty-two defense platforms out of thirty-seven were destroyed completely, with explosions so powerful that massive debris pieces flew outwards, only to impact nearby stations and ships docked with them.
Stations, too, suffered enormous amounts of damage, but they were too big to destroy outright. The debris from the defense platforms and destroyed ships was sticking out of the holes in the stations made by explosive shells previously. Six large stations were wrecked to that extent that most had lost all power. One of them had a lower part of one tower missing, leaving the station open to space where it had been ripped off by a grav shell.
In that initial attack, the Empire had smashed every defense platform, with thirty-two destroyed completely and five battered so much that they were no longer operational. All six of the stations were disfigured to the point that they no longer looked anything like what they previously had. None of them had power, and their weapons had all been destroyed.
Of the one hundred and twenty warships spread in various orbits around the planet, sixty-two were destroyed before they managed to move out of the way, and another thirty-three that did manage to move suffered various degrees of damage. Only twenty-five managed to move out of the fire, as their drives had already been primed.
The attack had also cost the Sowir hundreds of cargo and transport ships that had been docked with the stations when the attack hit. Those that had been on their way from the other planet or from outside the system were now quickly changing course and fleeing.
On the other side of the system, at the other planet, the Sowir managed to detect the incoming hail sooner and had their ships moved out of the way. But their stations and defense platforms suffered the same.
Adrian watched as his attack decimated the Sowir forces at both his targets. He wasn’t surprised at the effectiveness of the attack. It was extremely had to defend stationary objects in space against kinetic weapons, even if you knew that they were coming. There wasn’t much defense other than moving out of the way, and stations and platforms rarely could do that. All of the Empire’s stationary assets had specially designed defenses for those kinds of attacks. But the Sowir had none.
Seeing the effectiveness of the attack, Adrian changed his plans and issued new orders. His fleet changed course towards target A, while his Furious-class ships fired enough missiles towards target B to destroy every remaining military asset that the Sowir had left. He didn’t care at all for their nonmilitary ships that were even now running towards the hyperspace barrier. They also had assets on the ground, but most of them were mining operations where they used their agents for work. There might have been a few actual Sowir on the ground, but it was just as likely that they’d been on the stations in orbit. Either way, the ground was insignificant; if there were Sowir on the ground, they had no means to get off it. And if there were not, then their agents would lose control and either kill each other or die without the guidance of the Sowir.
Once enough missiles had been fired, he put target B out of his mind and focused on target A. Eighty Sowir ships were charging towards his own, in their usual suicidal manner. The eighty ships were mostly heavy cruisers, but there was a couple of battleships in their formation. With a thought, Adrian sent out orders, and one hundred Kraken-class warships pulled in front of his formation just as his Furious-class missile ships fired off missiles ahead of them.
The eighty Sowir ships saw the missiles speeding towards them and assumed the formation designed to defend against the Empire’s missiles. They moved close enough to each other for their combined defense systems to assess and provide firing solutions to their point defense. The last time that the Sowir had encountered Empire’s warships, their new system had proven very effective against the Empire’s missiles, but since then three years had passed. The Empire had upgraded their missiles accordingly.
One hundred Enforcer Mk 2 missiles speed towards the Sowir ships. As the Sowir ships opened with their point defense, the missiles engaged their evading protocols and their field generators just in time to negate the point laser fire from the Sowir ships. By the time the missiles crossed the distance to the Sowir ships, the enemy point defense had managed to take down only fifteen; the rest reached their targets and exploded against the Sowir ships’ hulls.
Fifty ships died outright. A couple more managed to survive the initial explosions, but succumbed to the secondary explosions from within their own hulls. Just as the survivors recovered, limping and damaged, the Vanguard Fleet’s Kraken warships opened up with their long-range particle cannons. Within moments, the remaining Sowir ships were eliminated. The Kraken-class warships then turned their sights on the remnants of the Sowir stations in orbit of the planet, followed close behind by the rest of the fleet. With their laser and particle weapons, the Fleet systematically reduced the stations and platforms still standing to dust.
At the second planet, target B, five hundred missiles reached the still standing Sowir stations. Without any defensive fire from the Sowir, three hundred Enforcer Mk 2 and two hundred MAHEM Mk 1 missiles reached their targets. The first to hit were the MAHEM Mk 1 missiles. Just before hitting the enemy hulls, their magnetic force generators shaped the liquid core of the missiles into a spearhead, which then punctured deep into the hull and delivered the explosives inside. The resulting explosions created vast, gaping holes in the stations, allowing the Enforcer Mk 2 missiles to get much deeper inside the stations. The result was the complete destruction of all Sowir stations.
Adrian watched as his fleet annihilated all their targets. The few surviving Sowir non-military ships were running towards the hyperspace barrier, along with a couple of their warships that hadn’t been at the planets. Adrian ordered his drones to follow them out of the system, but not engage, as his fleet regrouped and the ammo ships resupplied his other ships. He would need to wait to hear from the other two fleets before he decided what systems to hit next.
Adrian looked around him. In the Watchtower, he was floating inside a scaled-down system. He looked at the two planets and the destruction he’d wrought there. In no more than a couple of hours, he had destroyed what the Sowir had spent a hundred years to build.
With a thought, he disengaged the interface, opening his eyes to see Akash and Sora watching over him attentively. He got up, gave each of them a head pat, and then made his way to his quarters.